17 February 2015 | rooprect
A great documentary, for reasons you might not expect
After reading the top 2 IMDb reviews for this documentary using words like "appalling", "revolting", "tasteless", "classless" and everything short of "Nazi" to describe the subjects, I figured this would be a fun way to forget my own financial inadequacies by relishing in the multi-million dollar tragedy of a bunch of monsters who deserve to suck slime. So with that in mind I poured myself a cup of fresh blood and got my vampire on.
Immediately I was "disappointed" because, aside from having a pair of ivory tusks displayed in their living room, these people didn't display anything worthy of being flogged publicly as I was led to believe. Sure, their lifestyle was extravagant to a fault. But, ask any third-world kid who can't afford a pair of shoes, and you'll learn that extravagance is relative. No matter, thought I, wiping some drool off my non-designer jeans, this show is just getting started; I'm sure they'll spit on a few beggars in good time!
Actually quite the opposite. As the family begins to realize it's financial decay, instead of telling the laid-off employees to eat cake, Jackie actually started donating goods and volunteering at a local charity for their benefit. Aw man, way to kill a good feeding frenzy, thought I. Well, at least I can still hate her for all the excessive cosmetic treatments she keeps getting for her own vanity. Oops, wrong again. Those of us paying attention soon realize that she's not doing it for sheer vanity's sake but to try to please her husband as psychologically she seems insecure in that department. And as we learn more about the titular Queen of Versailles, we see many parallels between her and the other unfortunate queen, Marie Antoinette in her paper mâché marriage to Louis XVI. Yes, the interpersonal drama runs thick, between all family members in different ways. And just as the French eventually realized that they maybe went a little too far with that whole guillotine thing, you see that the Siegels, while guilty of clueless indulgence yes, don't nevessarily deserve to get their financial heads lopped off. These people are not aberrations of humankind as you'd been led to believe by some reviews, but instead, this is the story of a normal American family that has been subjected to abnormal extremes.
True, the husband (a man of 1 emotion: stoic), did at one point talk about how he personally got Bush re-elected by means that "may not have been legal", but he immediately counters it with "but then we got involved in this Iraqi War, so maybe I didn't do that much good after all." That statement is the key to understanding this powerful documentary. It is NOT a spectacle of seeing Emperors thrown to the lions. Rather, it is a very Faustian tale of pride and arrogance that gets the best of humans, and humans eventually accepting or at least admitting to the possibility that they were wrong. I'm talking about all humans, not just these people.
I have to hand it to the tragic family for bearing their downfall much more nobly than their rise. In the end (especially after watching the deleted scenes showing more of their human side), I felt good--not because I had just witnessed a gruesome car crash like other viewers, but because these people (except maybe 1 individual? I won't spoil) had all evolved into something better.
In that respect, this is a very complex story which requires your full attention. It's not like a sporting event that has 1 good guy, 1 bad guy and 1 outcome. It's really one of the best illustrations of pride under pressure. And although my greatest financial hurdle consists of how to pay my $75 parking ticket, I can somehow associate with these ex-billionaires on how money, and lack thereof, changes us all.